Sontaag Is the concept of Richard Sontaag (instruments,composition and co-production) and Ian Fortnam (Story,voice and lyrics). Described by the band itself as an "epic cross media hybrid where cerebral fiction meets visceral rock n roll", this their debut album, is for me at least, a foray into already well trodden territory. Passages reminiscent of early/mid Floyd mingle with the sweeping ambient landscapes that evoke Tangerine Dream, all very pleasant and undemanding, but is this enough to maintain the attention of the listener for the full 56 minutes?
Being described as a prog concept album, I have considerable difficulty in deciding whether the narration actually enhances the listener's experience or detracts from the pleasant and undemanding music. In my opinion the narrator does not possess sufficient charisma to hold the listener's attention and at times it is quite hard to hear what is being said. Maybe a transcription of the narrative should be included in the package?
In a nutshell this epic unfolds in a distant galaxy and is described thus by the band :-
"The Ancients, through a long process of trial and error, had discovered the secret of synthesizing essential energy from harmonic sound, giving them the power to reanimate extinct planets by utilizing giant orbiting sonic generators. But life came at a price. The newly supplanted inhabitants of MP-5 were compelled to provide the musical fuel for The Great Harmodulator simply to stay alive.
The album opens with the Gilmouresque "EMPYREAN" evoking memories of the intro to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" , Cue the drums and we're into what sounds a little like Peter Green, specifically during his "Black Magic Woman" period. Definitely a rocker with the ever present "synth strings" in abundance.
"THE GREAT HARMONIC MODULATOR" begins very much in Tangerine Dream territory and this continues throughout the track with little variation. The narration is introduced here and although it sets the scene, I would prefer to hear the music without the distraction. Ultimately the choice is with you. What do you think?
"SPACESHIFTER" is the first "song" on the album and as such would probably have been a contender for the single. I,m afraid that I find this piece sadly lacking and unimaginative and very run of the mill, although it's pleasant enough. What can I say? There are a few nods towards early Hawkwind but to me, I,m afraid this represents pop at its very worst. Should not have been included. In my opinion brings down the tone of the album. Next!!!!
"HARMODULATION" is a very short piece which basically serves as a backdrop to the narration.
After a long narrative, we are soothed by a rather pleasant slow, dreamy guitar theme backed by a choir of heavenly voices. "MINOR KEYS OF ANGUISHED WEEPING" does indeed set the album back on track and is eminently listenable. Certainly one of the better tracks on this CD. Just the ticket for those lazy afternoons slumped on the sofa "Chillin,". Nothing too demanding mind you, just a pleasant interlude of calm.
With "SERENA SERENARUM" the initial dialogue is superseded by a female voice. (Have the choir left?), amidst a background of arpeggiated synths. All very Seventies. The tempo picks up ever so slightly with the addition of drums and bass which sounds promising, a little guitar solo adds to the variety (very predictable), but ultimately this track never really gets off the ground.
"SORUSH". Not a lot to be said about this, just another vehicle for the narration.
"INTERSTELLAR GENOCIDE" might not be the choicest title for a pop song, but essentially, that is what this is, and it,s a relatively competent effort too. It,s a considerably better arrangement than "SPACESHIFTER" and although that,s not saying much, this "Rocker" definitely improves upon subsequent listenings.
"CHOKUTO" starts off with great promise but ultimately doesn,t deliver the goods. Another track that doesn,t really go anywhere.
"GLISSANDOR" Is by far my favourite track of the album. The dialogue actually works and the balance between guitars and synths is just about right. In contrast to most of the album the mood is upbeat and happy, I see new influences here, those that come to mind are, Mike Oldfield, Goblin and even The Yellow Magic Orchestra. If the quality of the album was consistent throughout, I would certainly award it at least another star. As soon as the drums kick in you know you're onto a winner, enter the "Goblinesque" motif and we're away. Cue the bass and guitar and we're "Rockin,".
"THE SKULL-SCRAPING CATERWAUL" can be best described as a "Musical Portrait" of the events in the dialogue. The track commences with a dreamy Intro of arpeggiated synths but soon becomes much more than this, the sounds become mechanical and are obviously meant to enhance the overall effect of the storyline which it manages to do to great effect. A good effort.
Another personal favourite is "AFTERSHOCK", an evocative blend of dreamy string synths and melodic guitar later augmented by a male chorus which gives this track more substance than it,s predecessors. A winner.
The longest track on the cd is "MEMORIA TENEBRE" and another favourite. Clocking in at almost 10 minutes,this is, fortunately, one of the better tracks on the album and is quite varied in it,s scope. A nice dreamy guitar arpeggio (backed by the usual synths) opens the number which subsequently (with the inclusion of bass and second guitar), develops into a fully-fledged symphonic opus full of dynamics. With the inclusion of lead guitar, this piece gathers momentum until the introduction once more, of the narrative. With the inclusion of Tubular Bells we are reminded of glories past. The music continues in a similar vein until the tempo changes and we're yet again in Tangerine Dream land. All very evocative and enjoyable, a sonic feast (or nibble), replete with ethnic voices and sequenced synths. A fitting climax.
CONCLUSION – My opinion of the album improved considerably upon subsequent listenings. Musically, I found the latter half of the cd more rewarding and enjoyable. As may be surmised I am not a great fan of the spoken narrative and have to say that this for me detracted greatly from the music, (I suppose others will see this from a completely opposite standpoint). Another point worthy of mention is that maybe the climate isn,t right for a new Prog concept album. It has to be said that this has been done many times before and although this album isn,t bad in both concept and content, It isn,t up there with the greats. A good effort nevertheless.